Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

supes4I never intended to ever watch this movie. I bought the Superman Anthology boxset on Blu-ray years ago but of all those eight discs, this one was surely the coaster. Although I’m a huge fan of both Superman: The Movie (if not the best superhero movie ever made, its definitely the most important) and Superman II, watching the third film on a VHS rental many years ago rather bummed me off ever watching the fourth film which was, apparently, even worse than that third effort. But it’s Superman. Its Christopher Reeve.

How bad can it get?

Now, well, there’s the loaded question. Goodness knows I’ve directed some ire at Justice League and BvS etc but goodness me, it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Because Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is bloody terrible. Really, it’s a horribly broken movie that was likely (or at least I hope)  made with the best of intentions but was handicapped by a hokey script, woefully insufficient budget and terminally uninspired direction. Its shocking that it was even deemed worthy of release, frankly,  and I think cinemagoers should have had the right to claim their money back. This isn’t a movie. Its a pale imposter. Its a few sequences that put together don’t make any sense masquerading as a movie with utterly charmless visual effects that decidedly lack the prefix ‘special’. I’ve not seen anything quite like it before even in Tobe Hooper’s worst movie.

Which is such a terrible shame, when you consider where it all started. In fact, you’d think someone would write a book about it- ”Superman: The Movie to Superman IV – a Cinematic Tragedy.’ How does something like this happen with such a well-loved franchise so hugely popular worldwide with such talent behind it? Where does it go wrong (there’s a clue in the story about Richard Donner and him being dropped from Superman II)?

Superman: The Movie was a huge expensive event movie with a brilliant cast including big stars like Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman- I can remember when it came out in 1978; back when titling something ‘THE MOVIE’ actually meant something. This wasn’t a tv show or a silly comic, this was a serious big movie. And it was brilliant and charming and amazing and thrilling. It had some of the biggest, most brilliant visual effects and the film really lived up to the tagline ‘you’ll believe a man can fly’. It was myth-making on the silver screen. With this, Star Wars, CE3K, Raiders… we had it so good back then.

But here they were a decade later and it’s all gone to hell in a four-colour handbag. Its painful and sad to see Chris Reeve reduced to this, and Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman and all the other stars from that first film slumming in this nightmare production. Sadly, Marvel Studios and even Zack Snyder are lifetimes away, it seems.

The story. Er… is there a story? I don’t think there is. Its just full of ill-judged scenes badly realised. Supes reveals (again) his secret identity to Lois and takes her for a romantic flight (again) although the travelogue scenery suggests he’s whisked her around the nation fast enough to burn her knickers nevermind upset her hairdo, before returning home and causing her to forget his identity with a kiss (again). Later he rescues Lacy (Mariel Hemingway wearing shoulder pads that look like weapons) whilst she’s in space somehow breathing and not freezing/boiling to death.

But there is Christopher Reeve and his simply magnificent Clark Kent. No matter how bad the movie, Clark still shines through and demonstrates the one thing that perhaps no other Superman movie will ever equal- that heartwarming, innocent comedy genius that was Chris Reeves’ Clark Kent, and the gentle chemistry between himself and Margot Kidder. Later films may have had better visual effects (and even actual plots and budgets) but they will never have Reeve and Kidder. So maybe Superman IV is not quite the utter disaster it might have been- oh, ok, of course it is. But it does have Reeve and Kidder. Oh, but they deserved so much better.

So did we, damn it.

3 thoughts on “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

  1. This has got me thinking: I’d love someone to write an overview of the history and development of “the sequel” as a concept. Back in the day they were (mostly) increasingly cheap and crappy, especially if there was more than one; but nowadays they’re expected to get better — I mean, no one approached Infinity War going, “the 18th sequel? It’s bound to be terrible!” Quite the opposite.

    None of which has anything to do with Superman IV in particular, I’d just like to see that evolution of how sequels are viewed (both in the industry and by audiences) accurately charted.

    1. My initial thought was that The Empire Strikes Back changed everything for sequels, but that would ignore The Godfather films or Superman II. Or the James Bond films for that matter. But yeah, maybe TESB was the changemaker- here was a film that was better, bigger, and expanded on the original, and set up a whole series of possible films. But ROTJ rather spoilt that a little with its Death Star 2 and so many call-backs to A New Hope.

      But yeah, sequels are no longer thought of a cheap cash-ins, indeed they are often considered a Good Thing now- an opportunity to improve, refine. Not that they all do that, but you certainly can’t argue with how Marvel is getting on. So what happened with the Chris Reeve Superman films is just doubly annoying.

      1. That’s the thing that always happens when I start thinking about this: people definitely had that “sequels are probably worse” attitude at one time, but there are plenty of well-acknowledged great sequels going back a long way. That makes me even more curious, in a way: what changed to make that attitude fade away? Probably consistency, I guess — going from sequels-as-improvement being a rarity to being the standard aim of their makers.

        Anyway, I guess it’s all a bit academic!

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